Wildlife photographer and whales cross paths off the coast of Marblehead

(Rick Cuzner)

MARBLEHEAD — Two humpback whales stopped in Marblehead for a quick dinner and a wildlife photographer was there to capture the moment.

Early Monday evening, Marblehead native Rick Cuzner was enjoying a quiet boat ride by himself in honor of his birthday. He told his wife he would be home 5 p.m., but after a run-in with the large mammals, who were dining on a school of pogies, he didn’t get home until 7:30 p.m.

“It’s such an amazing sight to see, especially so close to the shore,” he said.

The self-taught wildlife photographer saw the whales feeding near Children’s Island around 4 p.m., before they made their way out to Halfway Rock. Cuzner said he estimated the whales were about two miles off the coast of Marblehead. The photographer sat in his boat and watched them for at least an hour and a half.

“I’m not a patient person by nature but you have to be to get wildlife photos,” he said. “I sat for a good half hour just trying to understand how they were coming off the water before figuring out how to get a good shot.”

Cuzner has been an engineer at Applied Materials in Gloucester for the last 14 years. Wildlife photography is a hobby he took up five years ago, one that has gotten only slightly out of control, according to him. The father of two said he has an addictive personality, so when he dials in on something, he jumps right in on researching everything he can about it.

“I spend a lot of time chasing wildlife and being on the water, so I always make sure to have a camera of some sort with me,” he said.

Cuzner said he goes out on the water every morning before he leaves for work, eager to get a few good shots in. Every time he goes out, he takes at least 500 photos. When he gets back home and scrolls through his shots, he ends up deleting 90 percent of them.

Last year, he got a video of a sunfish on his cellphone that generated more than one million views on his Facebook page. While he may be rich with social media followers, Cuzner said he isn’t in it for the money. He will participate in art shows once in a while, but his photos are not for bringing in profit.

“It’s interesting to see the wildlife around us that nobody sees,” said Cuzner. “People walk by and don’t take the time to really see what’s going on in our waters.”

Allison Ferreira, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, said it’s not unusual for whales to be so close to shores during this part of the summer. She said all species of whales, especially humpbacks, migrate to various areas while following their food sources.

Ferreira said there are regulations in place to ensure the safety of people close to shores, as well as the safety of the whales, while the large mammals feed. She said people should never take a head-on approach and should stay at least 100 feet away from all species of whales, except right whales, which require 1,500 feet.

The NOAA website provides all the guidelines and restrictions for whale watching, including that it is illegal to interrupt any marine mammal’s natural behavior.


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